Attention Allergy Sufferers: Traces of Food Are Not Mandatory

People with allergies have to be careful when shopping. Always look at the list of ingredients. Below that is often the sentence: “May contain traces of….” What’s behind it?

For people with an allergy to nuts, mustard or celery, even a small amount of the allergen can often be dangerous. That’s why there is a note on many packaged foods: “May contain traces of….”

However, this notice is voluntary and not mandatory, the North Rhine-Westphalia consumer advice center clarifies. This means that if there is no such indication on a product, this does not mean, conversely, that there are guaranteed to be no traces of a specific allergen in it.

Prevention of liability claims

Manufacturers often want to use the trace information as a precaution to prevent possible liability claims. For example, you cannot rule out that even after cleaning, traces of an allergen remain in production facilities, which may then unintentionally find their way into other foods produced there.

However, this also means that although traces can be found on the food, it can also be completely free of the allergens mentioned therein.

What does the notice “May contain traces of…” mean?

The statement “May contain traces of…” only refers to ingredients that have accidentally got into the food and that are not part of the recipe.

If, for example, nuts are also processed in a company that produces gummy bears, they could accidentally get into the gummy bears, which are actually nut-free, as contaminants. In such cases, companies try to protect themselves from liability claims and print the note “May contain traces of nuts” on their product.

If the product contains an ingredient that can cause allergies or intolerances, this must be listed in the list of ingredients. The list of ingredients for nut chocolate must state which nuts are contained in the chocolate.

If in doubt, contact the manufacturer

If allergy sufferers want to know more details, we recommend inquiring directly with the manufacturer. In theory, can traces be included and what are the production conditions like? This helps with an individual decision and makes a targeted and safe choice of food easier.

Allergen labeling is mandatory: “Allergens 14”

The information in the list of ingredients for the 14 main allergens (the so-called “allergens fourteen”) is not only voluntary, but mandatory. Here the manufacturer must mention these allergens in the list of ingredients – and emphasize them visually, for example by bold type or underlining, so that allergy sufferers can see at a glance whether the product is suitable for them.

According to the Federal Center for Nutrition (BZfE), these 14 foods are responsible for around 90 percent of all food allergies and intolerances in Europe:

  • Cereals containing gluten, namely wheat (such as spelt and khorasan wheat), rye, barley, oats, or their hybrid strains
  • Crustaceans such as crayfish, shrimp, shrimp, lobster etc.
  • eggs
  • Fish
  • peanuts
  • soy
  • milk (including lactose)
  • Nuts, namely almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashew nuts, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachios,
  • macadamia nuts, Queensland nuts
  • celery
  • Mustard
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sulfur dioxide and sulphites (from 10 mg per kg or liter)
  • sweet lupins
  • Molluscs (e.g. snails, mussels, squid, etc.)

If there is no list of ingredients, the triggers of allergies and intolerances must be specified with the additional note “Contains …”.

Allergen labeling on unpackaged goods

In the case of unpackaged food in restaurants, bakeries, at the market, in the canteen, etc., information about the allergens must be posted for everyone to see.

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